The DEFCON Warning System™

Ongoing GeoIntel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.  DEFCON Level assessment issued for public notification.  Established 1984.

Why Hasn’t Putin Gone Nuclear in Ukraine?

Will Russian president Vladimir Putin use nuclear weapons in his war against Ukraine? Putin’s constant nuclear threats have made this one of the most critical questions hovering over the entire conflict. Are the threats a bluff designed to deter NATO efforts to support Ukraine, or are they serious warnings not to corner Putin that Ukraine and the West must heed? If Putin is truly willing to use nuclear weapons, then given the major political and military defeats he has endured, the real question may be why hasn’t Putin already ordered their use in Ukraine. The answer may lie in America’s own experiences in the Korean War.

Even before the invasion, Putin employed nuclear threats to deter an unlikely NATO intervention in what he believed would be a quick and easy victory. Russia’s defeats at Kyiv and Kharkiv and Ukraine’s recent offensives into territories annexed by Russia—resulting in massive Russian casualties and a badly tarnished global image—have intensified fears that Putin may authorize a tactical nuclear attack to stave off a battlefield defeat. As if on cue, Putin immediately began threatening to use “all weapon systems available to us” to achieve victory. In response, the Biden administration has conveyed both publicly and privately that a tactical nuclear strike would result in a catastrophic U.S. response and risk global “Armageddon.”

Prior to the war, however, the type of setbacks Putin has already endured—on the battlefield, at home, and internationally—would themselves have been grounds for nuclear retaliation. These defeats have left Putin a shadow of his former self, with even his once-cowed allies inflicting indignities not thought possible just a year ago. With Putin’s legacy in ruins, his army in disarray, and his country in upheaval because of the disastrous mobilization, analysts need to consider why Putin hasn’t decided to use nuclear weapons. The likely answer, as the United States learned during the Cold War, is that employing nuclear weapons on the battlefield is far more difficult than it first appears. 

Read more at National Interest

Ongoing Geointel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.


© 2024 The DEFCON Warning System. Established 1984.

The DEFCON Warning System is a private intelligence organization which has monitored and assessed nuclear threats by national entities since 1984. It is not affiliated with any government agency and does not represent the alert status of any military branch. The public should make their own evaluations and not rely on the DEFCON Warning System for any strategic planning. At all times, citizens are urged to learn what steps to take in the event of a nuclear attack.